With time winding down on 2015, it’s time to look back and reflect on this past year. Due to a personal loss, we didn’t get to take in a ballpark tour this season, but that didn’t stop us from having some great times, and making some unforgettable memories. Every moment spent with my kids and dad are special, and it’s always difficult to narrow a list down and do every event justice.
9) Meeting Joey Pankake: Picking the #9 slot is sometimes harder than the #1, as it usually means that one special event is left out. I decided to go with Brian meeting his favorite player in Whitecaps’ second baseman Joey Pankake. We watched him on TV last year when he was playing his college ball with South Carolina, and were excited when the Tigers picked him up in the draft. Every Sunday home game the Whitecaps let the fans on the field to meet the players, so we took advantage of that. Joey was really nice to Brian, as he signed a program for him and got a picture. Times like this is what makes baseball fans.
8) Back in Jax: While I was down in southern Georgia doing some training for work in April, I was able to take in a couple of Jacksonville Suns games. The Suns have a great venue, and a game here is always a great experience. Back in 2005 when I was down training for 18 weeks, I went to many games, and the Suns were a positive distraction from missing my kids back home. It was good to be back after a decade, and I hope I don’t have to wait that long to catch another game in Jacksonville.
7) Baseball in Michigan in March: This is an odd pick, I guess, for different reasons. For us, being able to watch live baseball in the month of March is amazing, and we were definitely lucky to be able to take a game as the Central Michigan Chippewas hosted the Ohio Bobcats. On a more somber note, this game was a chance for my dad and I to get out of town and away from things for an afternoon after my mom passed. She loved baseball and CMU, so this was a good place rehash some good memories of her.
6) Star Wars Night: Although Star Wars Night usually ranks higher on our list, it shouldn’t take away how much fun we had. This season we were back at Fifth Third Ballpark to watch the Whitecaps and see some of our favorite Star Wars characters (we were in Lansing last season). Most of the main guys were there, except Boba Fett, which is a favorite of Trevor and I. This was our fifth year in a row for a Star Wars event, so I’m glad that we are keeping up the tradition. It will be interesting next season to see if any of the characters from the new movie show up. After all, the 18th is coming up fast…
5) Playoffs in West Michigan: In September I was able to cross one more thing off my baseball bucket list, attending my first ever playoff game. The Whitecaps were hosting the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Midwest League finals, and were down in the series 1-0. We were able to witness a late come-from-behind victory as the ‘Caps evened the series. It was one of those exciting, high-fiving-total strangers type of game, and it was amazing! West Michigan went on to win two out of three games in Cedar Rapids to secure the championship, and I feel privileged I could be part of the play off run.
4) BTTF Night: This was a great night, and ranks so high probably because this was our first ever Back To The Future night event. Brian had an awesome night, and loved that he was able to sit in the Delorian, pretending to be bolted back to 1985. There was a BTTF theme throughout the Great Lakes Loons game, also, with music and games all relating to 1955, 1985, and 2015. Dow Diamond is one of the best ballparks in the minors, also, so just watching the ballgame is very enjoyable. And with a three hour drive before and after the game, was had plenty of time to watch all three BTTF movies during our trip.
3) Brian’s Lugnuts Clinic: For a Little Leaguer having the chance to play some ball on a professional field is quite the experience. Brian was a little intimidated at first when he stepped onto the big field, and the fact that we live so far away he didn’t have any friends in the clinic. Once things got going, though, he was able to relax and just play and have fun, which is the important thing. I hope this was a good experience for him, and that one day he can appreciate being taught the game by professional ballplayers and coaches. If nothing else, the Lugnuts certainly made another fan.
2) Loons Fantasy Camp: This summer I was also able to live out a fantasy I’ve had since being Brian’s age, and that was playing baseball in a professional stadium. The Great Lakes Loons held a drawing to be able to play in a fantasy game at Dow Diamond, and I was lucky enough to secure a slot. The game was a lot of fun, and I hit the ball well each time up going 1-3. In the field at least I didn’t make any errors and a couple of plays. This was an amazing experience, and having the kids there to cheer me on was just awesome. If any other fans have the opportunity to play in one of these games, I highly recommend it.
1) Coaching the Cubs: As usual, being able to coach one of my kids in Little League is always number one. Brian and I were members of the Cubs this season, and this was a great team full of great kids. Being able to spend time with him like this is a dream come true, and I love this age level, as I can nurture the kids love of the game while teaching them the basics. No matter how long Brian decides to play this great sport, I will hold on to these years with all my heart and soul. Merry Christmas everyone, and God Bless in the new year!
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Lansing Lugnuts vs Bowling Green Hot Rods (Midwest League)
One cool new aspect of Cooley Law School Stadium is the Michigan Baseball Hall Of Fame. Some of the best players who are from Michigan or played in the state are honored. Some of my childhood favorites like Alan Trammell and Jim Abbott are honored, as well as some classic Tigers like Al Kaline, Charlie Gehringer, and broadcaster Earnie Harwell.
The game was a fun one for us to watch, and a good one for the home team. This game was special also, as it was the first one all three kids attended. I’m glad Lily finally made it to a game with us this season. Trevor took a good pic with his phone of himself, my dad, and I. I also took one using the MiLB In The Park app. Apparently, Trevor’s phone does a little better job.
As for the game action, the Lugnuts scored in the early, middle, and late innings. Midwest League Player of the Year Ryan McBroom had a big night offensively. He went 2-3 with a booming home run, a double, and plates five RBI’s. Center fielder D.J. Davis also contributed two RBI’s on the night, going 2-4. Alex Maldonado and Christian Vazquez each had a pair of hits, also.
On the hill for the ‘Nuts, spot starter Tim Mayza threw five shut-out innings, giving up one hit and striking out five. In relief, Dusty Isaacs gave up one run, and Phil Kish two before shutting the door.
This was a great day all around, and I’m very blessed and lucky to have this time with my kids and dad. Brian and I were a little disappointed that the mascot Big Lug didn’t walk the concourse or interact with fans at all. We have some more baseball fun planned soon! Final: Lugnuts 11, Hot Rods 3.
Cooley Law School Stadium-Lansing, MI: Over the weekend the kids and I traveled way down state so Brian could participate in the Lugnuts on-field baseball seminar. He had a lot of fun and learned a lot from the pros.
After his pitching stint, his group moved to the infield for some work. Lugnuts player Tom Robson was running things there, and gave the kids some good instruction. Brian did a great job, and this is the best I’ve seen him field ground balls all season.
Brian is a runner, so it was no surprise he enjoyed the base running aspect of the seminar so much. He learned some things we haven’t touched on at his level yet, like leading off and stealing. The last station was hitting, the best aspect of his game. Unfortunately, time ran out, and he didn’t get a chance to hit. He was disappointed, so I threw a few to him in the outfield before we left so he could show off a bit. He had one of the Lugnuts sign his ball and got his picture taken, also.
After the seminar the kids were able to play on the park and bouncy house stuff, so all was good. This was a great experience for Brian, as he learned a lot and had fun doing it. I hope I can get him into more things like this in the future. I also apologize for this post, as it was done entirely on my iPhone since my computer is jacked.
Photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
Great Lakes Loons vs. Lansing Lugnuts (Midwest League)
Dow Diamond-Midland, MI: Flying home from Florida, I decided to take an extra day and spend it with my dad. We usually go to a game for his birthday the first of April, but my training pushed that back a couple of weeks. I flew in just south of Midland, so we had a nice lunch and took in a Loons game, which is always a good time. As you can see by some of the pics, also, I finally discovered the MiLB In The Park app, and took advantage of it with the photos I took with my phone. I wish I would have used it in Jacksonville, but will definitely use it for any of our upcoming games.
I did get spoiled a little bit with the warmer weather down south, and it seemed that some of the rain followed by back up north here. It was a little cooler here in Michigan that it was in Florida and Georgia, but in reality not all that bad for the time of year. The rain didn’t last long and didn’t delay the game, either, so it’s all good on that front.
As far as the game goes, the Lugnuts jumped to a 2-0 lead after scoring a run in each of the first two innings. The Loons came back to score single runs in the fifth and seventh innings to tie things up, but then both offenses would come to a complete stand-still.
The game went to a whopping 16 innings, with the visitors finally plating a pair. For the Lugnuts, they were led by Rowdy Tellez, who went two for seven with three RBI’s in the game, and Dickie Joe Thon who went three for six at the plate. Andrew Case pitched the last four inning for Lansing, picking up the win while striking out two. For the home-town Loons, Josmar Cordero went three for seven, while Alex Verdugo and Mike Ahmed had two hits each. Kevin Guzman got the start on the hill for Great Lakes, going five strong innings while only giving up one earned run. Cordero, despite his three hits, would come in a take the loss, giving up both runs in the 16th. Also making an appearance for the Loons, was pitcher David Reid-Foley. Reid-Foley was born in Sault Ste. Marie (where I currently live), then moved down to Brunswick, Georgia (where I was training just the day before), and went to school and was drafted while in Jacksonville, Florida (where I caught a couple of Suns games). Baseball does unite the world, does it not? Final: Loons 2, Lugnuts 4.
I wish I could say that we stayed for the whole 16 inning marathon, but honestly can’t. After being up since four in the morning, travelling back to Michigan, and still being and hour and a half until I could lay my head down, we couldn’t do more than 12 innings. A long day, but a fun time as always at Dow Diamond. We don’t have any plans to come back as of yet this season, but once Little League starts and gets a schedule, I can start looking at the rest of the summer. We do have plans to hit a pair of Whitecaps games next month, though.
This summer, the Great Lake State will be opening it’s very own Baseball Hall of Fame. The location will be at the Lansing Lugnuts’ Cooley Law School stadium, in left center field on the outfield wall. The idea came last year, when the Lugnuts started a $26.5 million renovation to their ballpark. Lugnuts owner Tom Dickson helped to conceive the idea, realizing there is no such place yet.
“We said, why don’t we do it,” Dickson told MLive.com. “Sometimes it’s amazing what you stumble upon with a little but of luck.”
The Michigan Baseball Hall of Fame will start with 10 members in its inaugural class. It will include plaques with images of the inductees, as well as the when and why they were inducted. The Hall will include players and coaches native to Michigan, as well as those who came to our state and ‘contributed significantly and positively within the national pastime.’ The Hall won’t be limited to just major league players, either, and could include a little league team, high school or college players, and coaches.
“We’re looking for people who have made an outstanding contribution to baseball in the state of Michigan across all levels”, stated Dickson.
There is a very impressive selection committee in place, looking to seek out the worthy candidates from our state. Along with some of the great players from the Detroit Tigers, I would love to see pitcher Jim Abbott selected, as he was one of my favorite players growing up. Michigan also has a great history of amateur baseball, as the very first College World Series was played in Kalamazoo, and the Stan Musial World Series being played in Battle Creek. C.O. Brown and Arch Flannery would be good bets, also, as they were responsible for bringing the series to BC back in 1937. I definitely can’t wait until June 27th, when the Michigan Baseball Hall of Fame opens its doors.
Logo courtesy of Michigan Hall of Fame/MLive.com
East Division vs. West Division
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: We started off this seasons’ baseball trip with a bang this year, right here in Michigan with the 50th Midwest League All-Star Classic. The doors opened at 4:00, so when we arrived we were able to watch some of the West players during batting practice. We were really lucky it turned out to be such a beautiful day, too, as the forecast called for some rain, and thankfully we never got a drop.
There were plenty of things going on to keep fans entertained during the three hours until the first pitch, also. Joining the hometown mascots Crash, Franky, and Roxy, were Big Lug (Lansing), Johnny (Fort Wayne), Lou E. Loon (Great Lakes), and Fang (Wisconsin). The mascots did a great job all night and throughout the game. Crash and Lou E. Loon really stood out from the others, though, in entertaining the crowd.
Fans were also lucky enough to get down on the field and get some autographs from the all-stars. They didn’t give us a whole lot of time, but I was able to get most of the East team to sign a baseball for the kids. It was fun talking to the players, also, even the ones from opposing teams we don’t get to see that often. All the players were great with the fans, and seemed very happy to be participating in the game.
Another pre-game activity was the ‘Lost Art of Bunting’ contest. Players from each team had a chance to try bunting the ball onto select targets down the first and third base side. This year’s winner was Mallex Smith, and outfielder for the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
Also on hand to sign some autographs was Detroit Tigers’ legend Willie Horton. Being a World Champion for the Tigers in 1968, he was someone my parents watched back in the 60’s and 70’s. We made sure he signed a ball for both of them, and I tried to get Horton in a photo with my dad, but there was some bad lighting. Still better than nothing, though. There was a long line for autographs, but it moved pretty quickly. Almost comical, though, as you couldn’t have him personalize an autograph or get an actual picture with him.
Now, on to the game itself…which was a blowout. You’d think an all-star game would be pretty competitive, but the West shut down the hitters from the East almost the entire game. In fact, the East was no-hit for 7 2/3 innings, before South Bend’s Marty Herum wrecked it. The Whitecaps’ starting pitcher Jonathan Crawford took the loss for the East, giving up one run in two innings of work. The ‘Caps Buck Farmer came in and pitched a scoreless fifth inning. He struck out one, walked one, and hit one batter. He leads the Midwest League with 87 strikeouts. Wynton Bernard played left field the entire game, going 0-3 with a walk, and leaving two runners on. Second baseman Javier Betancourt came into the game in the fifth inning. Although he was tied for the league lead in hits, he went 0-2 with a line-drive out and a ground-out. West Michigan pitchers Austin Kubitza, Chad Green, and reliever Joe Mantiply did not make an appearance.
The MVP award went to Hershel ‘Boog’ Powell of the Beloit Snappers. Boog went 1-3 with two walks, two stolen bases, and a two-run double. Even though the games wasn’t a close one, it was still an exciting experience for any baseball fan. And, hey, at least I caught a game ball! Final score: East 0, West 7.
All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
Kicking off our annual baseball trip this season will be the 50th Midwest League All-Star Game in Comstock Park, MI in less than two weeks. This will be the first All-Star game of any kind that we have attended, and it will possibly be the highlight game of the trip. The gates to Fifth Third Ballpark will be opening at 4:00 p.m., and we’ll be able to see both teams take batting practice and be able to take part in an on-field autograph session. Also in attendance, joining the Whitecap’s own Crash the River Rascal, will be Big Lug (Lansing), Lou E. Loon (Great Lakes), Fang (Wisconsin), and Johnny (Fort Wayne). There will also being jugglers, stilt walkers, and face painters on the concourse before the game. Sounds like a great place to be a kid, and it’s almost guaranteed we’ll be seeing some great baseball. The Midwest League has announced the rosters for the event, also.
The West Michigan Whitecaps lead the way with five (or six?) players selected. Infielder Javier Betancourt (.272, 68 hits) and outfielder Wynton Bernard (.298, 14 doubles) were picked as the position players representing the ‘Caps. On the mound, pitchers Buck Farmer (5-4, 2.81 ERA), Austin Kubitza (5-0, 2.02 ERA), and Joe Mantiply (4-1, 2.00) will represent West Michigan. Jonathan Crawford (2-1, 2.27 ERA) is listed on the ‘Cap website, but has yet to be added to the official roster. That’s a very good group for the home-town fans to root for.
The Lansing Lugnuts will be sending four players north on I-96. Starting for the Eastern Division will be first baseman Matt Dean (.297, 3 triples, 2 home runs) and third baseman Mitch Nay (.267, 31 RBI’s). Outfielder Derrick Loveless (.287) will come off the bench, as will pitcher Griffin Murphy (2-2, 1.73). Not a bad group to represent the Lugnuts this year.
Three members of the Great Lakes Loons will also be all-star bound. Starting for the Eastern Division will catcher Kyle Farmer (.308, 15 2B, 33 RBI’s) and outfielder Joey Curletta (.314, 72 hits, 95 total bases). On the hill will Mark Pope, with a 1-0 record and miniscule 0.41 ERA. What the Loons lack in quantity, that definitely make up for in quality. All three players are having great seasons in the Midwest League this year!
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Lansing Lugnuts vs. West Michigan Whitecaps (Midwest League)
Cooley Law School Stadium-Lansing, MI: It’s that time of the year again, when my scruffy-looking nerf-herders and I headed down state for Star Wars Day! This season we decided to check out the Lansing Lugnuts at Cooley Law School Stadium. Lucky for us, though, they were hosting the West Michigan Whitecaps. This was Lily and Brian’s first time in this ballpark, too, as Trevor was with me in 2009, and we were rained out here last year. Battling the rain for over a week straight up north, we were happy to head south for a few days. We were very lucky that it was such a beautiful day in Lansing and it was good to finally see the sun again. We got to the ballpark a little early, so we were able to hang out outside the park for a little bit and get some pics of its façade.
When we entered the ballpark, the Imperial Forces were waiting for us…it’s a trap! We got some pics with some stormtroopers and the like, but Brian was very impressed with the purple astrodroid. I’m sure he wanted to take the droid home with us, and how cool would that be? We then found our seats, and noticed more Star Wars characters down on the field, as well as some other fans playing catch. We didn’t waste any time grabbing our gloves and joining them.
We made our way down onto the field, right field to be exact, and made a beeline for Boba Fett! Easily the favorite of the boys and myself, they had to get a pic with him. Brian was a little weary of the Lugnuts’ mascot Big Lug, but reluctantly took a picture with him anyway. Trevor played catch with his Papa, and I with Brian, while Lily was nice enough to take some pictures. We were able to toss the ball around for a good 15-20 minutes before being rounded up like droids by the Jawas, and left the field so the teams could warm up.
On our way back to our seats, the boys were able to get an autograph by a couple of the Lugnuts’ players. One of them was #16 Phil Kish, but the other player was wearing a jacket and we couldn’t see who he was.
The game itself was a good one, well, during the ninth inning anyway. Pitching for Lansing, both Chase De Jong and Alonzo Gonzalez shut out the Whitecaps for five and three innings each, respectively. The ‘Caps refused to go out without a fight, however. In the final inning, Harold Castro singled and was moved to third by another hit by Tyler Gibson. Ben Verlander would then step into the box as a pinch hitter, and drove the ball over the wall, but just left of the left field foul pole. Down to two outs and two strikes, Verlander hit the next pitch just over the infield to score Castro as the tying run, and advancing Gibson to third. Jose Zambrano followed that up with a base hit to give West Michigan the 2-1 lead. On the mound, Julio Felix earned the win by shutting down the Lugnuts in the eight and ninth innings. Chad Green pitched well also, just giving up the one run and striking out six in seven innings of work. Castro and Willy Adames were both 2-4 for the ‘Caps. D.J. Davis and L.B. Dantzler led the way offensively for Lansing, going 2-4 each, also. This game went by too quickly, but a fun one to watch to the end. Final Score: Lugnuts 1, Whitecaps 2.
The only thing that was disappointing about this game was a lack of a crowd. It was a beautiful day, and Cooley Law School Stadium is a great venue to watch a game. I can’t imagine living in a town with such a nice baseball experience and not attending! Trevor took advantage of the small crowd, and moved up by the dugout to get a game ball. It took him the whole game, but he finally got the ball from the final out.
Although the game was over, the fun was not. Being the best big sister in the world, Lily took Brian over to run the bases. Brian has become a master at this, and can now add another stadium to his list. It was hard to catch up to him with the camera he is so fast. This is just another day that I feel lucky and blessed to have spent the day at the ballpark with my dad and kids. I can’t wait for our big baseball trip next month.
This second video from my YouTube channel is of the game:
All photos and videos property of Minoring In Baseball
Promotion courtesy of the Lansing Lugnuts
Cooley Law School Stadium, home of the Lansing Lugnuts, will be receiving a $22 million dollar renovation. First, there will be an $11 million renovation to upgrade and modernize the ballpark itself. There will also be an $11 million project called ‘The Outfield’, that is a privately funded residential and commercial development venture. There will also be a state-of-the-art high-definition video board that will be attached to the Outfield complex, but paid for by the Lugnuts. Along with the new video board, other upgrades will include and 360 degree walk-around concourse, and enhanced picnic area, new kids playground, upgrades to the clubhouses, refurbished seating, and brand new playing surface, renovated suites, an energy-efficient lighting and window system, and a new special event facility.
“This revolutionary project is a model for how the private and public sectors can work together to preserve a community asset while also propelling further economic growth downtown,” Lugnuts owner Tom Dickson stated in a press release. “It’s inclusion of a mixed-use development directly in the outfield of the ballpark delivers a twist that is unprecedented in the industry, creating more energy in both the ballpark and surrounding downtown Stadium District.”
This new Outfield project will include about 80 residential units as well a restaurant. The development will be constructed over the existing outfield wall, and will give some of the residents to have front row seats to the games. The Lugnuts organization will be working with the city to secure City Council approval by May 1st, and want the renovations to be completed over the next two off-seasons.
“The opening of the stadium in 1996 dramatically turned around the downtown area and catalyzed capital-area and regional development,” Lansing mayor Virg Bernero stated in the same press release. “With this renovation, we’re solidifying a crown jewel in Cooley Law School Stadium and ensuring the Lugnuts remain an amazing entertainment option for Lansing area patrons for the next twenty years.”
This is great news for the city, and for Lugnuts fans, and I really look forward to experiencing the finished product. We have plans to attend a Lugnuts game on May 4th, so hopefully the weather is at least a little bit warmer by then, and we can enjoy another Star Wars day. We didn’t have much luck in our two trips to Lansing last season.
West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Lansing Lugnuts (Midwest League)Cooley Law School Stadium–Lansing, MI: Both the West Michigan Whitecaps and the Lansing Lugnuts missed the playoffs this season, but ended 2013 with their in-state rivalry. Despite the ‘Caps having a better record this season, the Lugnuts have had their number, and that includes taking 2/3 in the final series. In the first game, the Whitecaps made a gallant come-back attempt, only to lose in a walk-off in the ninth. Jake Stewart and Bennett Pickar hit back-to-back singles, when the Lugnuts brought in Arik Sikula to close the game. Sikula threw a wild pitch and had a passed ball, though, that scored Stewart. Then David Gonzalez hit a triple, scoring the pinch-runner Harold Castro to tie the game. The ‘Caps celebration was short-lived, however, as a walk and two singles gave Lansing the win, and Corey Knebel his only loss of the season. Kevin Patterson hit the winning RBI in the 5-4 win for the Lugnuts. The second game of the series was a complete rout for the Whitecaps, winning the game 13-1. The ‘Caps scored five runs in both the third and fourth innings, one in the sixth, and two in the eighth with 19 total hits. Jared Reaves led the way going 4-6 with an RBI and two runs scored. Raph Rhymes went 3-4 with a double and two runs scored. Connor Harrell and Jake Stewart each contributed with three RBI’s each. On the mound, West Michigan was just as dominant. Calvin Drummond earned the win, going five innings, giving up only three hits, and striking out four. Kramer Chaplin took the loss for Lansing. The final game of the series, and of the season, went to the hometown Lugnuts by the score of 9-4. The Whitecaps had a 4-0 lead at one point, but surrendered nine streight to the ‘Nuts. Jeff Holm, Pickar, Castro, and Jason King each had two hits in the loss. Daniel Klein led the way for Lansing, going 3-4 with two doubles, two RBI’s, and a run scored. Relief pitcher Yorfrank Lopez took the loss, giving up six hits and five runs in just over an inning of work, while Ian Kadish earned the win for Lansing.
Lucky for me, I had a buddy from work attend one of the games and get this photo for me. It will be a long nine or so months before seeing baseball again for sure. We’ll try to get to Lansing next season of the weather cooperates, and we’ll hit a few Whitecaps games for sure, including the Midwest League All-Star game hopefully.
Photo courtesy of B. Faulkner